The Physics of Ice Skating
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San Diego Figure Skating Communications
a non-profit educational organization

Physics Applied
to Spins and Jumps

Simple Principles of Physics Applied to Figure Skating is not Rocket Science
       There are simple basic scientific principles such as friction, momentum and the law of equal opposite reaction at work as skaters glide across the ice.

        The smooth surface of the ice allows the skater to glide with a lack friction that occurs when two objects slide against each other. The rougher the surfaces, the greater the force of friction that will result.

        The skate's blade ensures produces a minimal area that comes into contact with the ice, thus reducing resistance in the form of friction. The pressure of the blade on the surface of the ice converts the ice to melt and producing a thin layer of water between the solid ice and the bottom of the skate blade. This thin layer of water results in a surface with very little friction, The result is a smoothly gliding method of propelling the skater forward or backwards.

      A Skater achieves a spinning rotation through a process of storing angular momentum in their arms and the free leg. The process of pulling in the arms and free leg close to the body increases the speed of the spin.

      All spins start with a process that uses a torque maneuver (hook) to generate angular momentum and then pulling the arms and free leg closer to the body reduces the moment of inertia.  The rotation of spin increases to conserve angular momentum.

      A skater can increase rotational speed in a spin by pulling in the hands tightly to body. Rotation can be slowed or stopped by extending the hands and free leg out to check the rotational force of the spin allowing the core body to achieve stability for a controlled exit.

      Jumps in figure skating requires a skater to change linear momentum into vertical momentum in a manner similar to pole vaulting.  The skater accelerates to achieve speed (linear momentum) then a downward pressure is applied to an edge from the ball of the foot, or the toe of a skate inserted into the ice to achieve a pole vaulting motion in coordination with the skating edge.

      Increasing the speed into a jump allows the skater  theoretically to jump higher and travel a greater distance in the air before landing. Height and speed determine the elapsed time from the take-off to the landing.

      Angular momentum can be carried into the jump by applying a torque just like when spinning and when the legs and arms are drawn into the body the  skater spins in the air.  Torque or moment of force is the rotation an object about an axis.

  To land, the skater extends (opens up) their arms and free leg in the same manner as exiting a spin on the ice. If the skater fails to control the angular momentum prior to landing, the skaters may land hard on the toe on a deep arc. A wide swinging free leg can cause a loss of control, free leg touching down or immediately stepping out of the landing. Ideally the the curve of the landing edge can be on the same arc established on the take-off, allowing the skater to control the angular momentum gained in the jump.
    Ice skating jumps requires lifting force that propels the skater into the air. This force can be created by pushing the entire skate blade against the ice surface by shifting the body's weight to the ball of the foot on an edge or from a poll vaulting motion from tapping the toe into the ice which requires a coordinated push against the ice from an edge and tapping motion that suddenly stops linear momentum of the body, thus launching the skater into the air.

   A skater can increase rotational speed in a jump by pulling in the hands tightly to body. Rotation can be slowed or stopped by extending the hands and free leg out to check the rotational force of the jump allowing the core body to achieve stability for a controlled landing when exiting the jump.

  The following are some terms with which you should be familiar prior to beginning the projectile motion and conservation of angular momentum units. After reviewing these terms you should have enough knowledge to understand the projectile motion unit, conservation of angular momentum unit, the linear kinematics unit, and the linear dynamics unit.
Angular Acceleration  

Angular Displacement

Angular Momentum

Angular Velocity

Center of Mass


*    ground reaction
*    weight
*    friction
*    centripetal


Linear Acceleration    
Linear Displacement

Linear Momentum

Linear Velocity


Moment of Inertia






© April, 1998, Montana State University-Boze
Recommended Reading:

Improving Ice Skates - American Institute of Physics Nov. 1, 2004 ... Biomechanists Develop Skates That Reduce Stress of Jumping, Landing. ... What is the physics behind those fancy jumps in figure skating?

Ever wondered how ice skating works? Whether you're a first-time flounderer or a triple-axle pro, you've probably wondered what's going on.  The purpose of these pages is to explore the physics of ice skating in a fun, approachable way.

The Physics of Ice Skating vs In-Line Skating  It's surprising that in-line skating so closely mimics ice skating. Ice skaters glide along with very little friction, while inline wheels grip asphalt with "rolling friction." Let's compare the physics of ice skating and in-line skating.

The Physics of Figure Skating  Men will show off their spins and combinations in the Winter Olympics, providing an opportunity to watch examples of basic scientific concepts, such as friction, momentum, and the law of equal and opposite reactions.

Stuff in the Air - Physics of  Figure Skating Is it a sport or a performing art? The physics of ice skating will give you a scientific perspective.

The Science of Jumping and Rotating  As you watched figure skating athletes perform during the Olympic Games, did you think about the skills they are performing during their programs of the physics that  allowed them to jump and spin?

Conservation of Angular Movement  Several spins and jumps have been chosen to illustrate the generation and conservation of angular momentum. Before proceeding to this analysis section, you need to be familiar with some basic physics principles and definitions. For example, it is important to understand the concepts of force, angular displacement, angular velocity, and momentum to fully comprehend the analysis of the figure skating jumps and spins.


The following internet links have been gleaned from personal communications
combined with information from public institutions and athletic organizations/
associations that have a web presence with information concerning team and
individual sports programs:

Role of Physics in Skating
Science of Dance

All materials are copy protected. 
The limited use of the materials for education purposes is allowed providing
credit is given for the source of the materials.

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